The presence of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in Libya, due to its proximity to Europe, represents a clear and imminent danger to the EU states more than ever before due in part to Daesh’s consolidation of power in the important city of Sirte.
To understand Libya today, one needs to first analyse the UN’s failure to reach a political solution in Libya which has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, with the decision earlier this month of the ‘unity’ government to move out of exile in Tunisia — not to Libya, but further away, to Morocco. Conjured into being by the UN in December, the grandly-named Government of National Accord (GNA) was supposed to unify the country, end the civil war, stop migration and crush Daesh.
The GNA’s decision on February 3 to move from a hotel in Tunis to a hotel in the Moroccan seaside resort of Skhirat comes more in part courtesy of Rashid Gannouchi, President of Tunisia’s Al Nahda party, anxious not to offend his fellow Libyan Islamist extremists, notably his close friend of decades Abdul Hakim Belhadj, who controls the Tripoli Mitiga Airport and who supports the Tripoli-based GNC. Curiously, the fact that Belhadj, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, is currently suing the British government doesn’t seem to stop British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Special Envoy for Libya, Jonathan Powell saying in Parliament last week that “the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya is not analogous” to Egyptian or Tunisian branches. Paraphrasing he added “It is one of the more moderate of voices”.
The GNA is not a ‘unity’ government, it consists of a nine-strong presidency council chosen by ‘Libya Dialogue’, a negotiating body which the UN itself appointed. The General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli announced that GNA members would face arrest if they set foot in the capital. The House of Representatives (HoR), the internationally recognised government in Tobruk that’s needed to legitimise the GNA, also last week rejected the first list of Ministers that PM-designate Faiz Serraj presented.
The one thing this so-called GNA government can never do after being stuck in exile is fix Libya’s problems, particularly given links from certain elements of Tripoli’s ‘Dawn’ Coalition with Daesh.
In Rome earlier this month, in the second multi-lateral meeting in two months on Daesh in Libya, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the last thing anyone wants “is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars in oil revenue.”
An important meeting ended on February 14. That was the 52nd Munich Security Conference, attended by the great and good from the world over including Russia. The UN Libya Envoy Martin Kobler had hoped to introduce Kerry to Ageela Salah, the HoR President of the legitimate parliament based in Tobruk, as well as introduce Faiz Serraj, the GNA designate PM. However neither Libyan turned up in Munich as scheduled because of last-minute disagreements over the list of ministers.
To coincide with the last day of the Munich summit a Valentine’s last ditch attempt to save the GNA was transmitted to the HoR around midnight, giving a list of new proposed ministers. This is also likely to fail.
Late on Saturday, February 13, in fact all the Libyans in Skhirat walked out of the UN meetings and most left Morocco. This now finally looks like the end to the more than a year-long peace process that the UN have been tirelessly working towards.
It is no surprise to Libya watchers since farcically according to the UN, international military action against Daesh could have only happened if the GNA could get to Tripoli and then issue a formal invitation for the strikes. But due to the security situation it has been impossible for them to get to Tripoli. A Catch-22 for Libya. Regardless of an invitation from Libya, for Nato and its allies, destroying Daesh must be the priority, first by air wherever it exists and sooner or later that will also mean boots on the ground from Nato and its Arab allies. Libya’s mostly flat terrain makes attacking Daesh there easier than in Iraq and Syria.
An important factor is that the Pentagon is in disagreement with US President Barack Obama over how to deal with Daesh, particularly in Libya, and have committed to submitting their recommendations on how to defeat Daesh directly to Congress by Monday.
Congress will no doubt also enter the fray after they have studied the Pentagon’s recommendations to convince Obama to act militarily in Libya.
There is no escaping the fact that Daesh continues to take advantage of Libya’s chaos. America with Nato and its Arab allies must provide leadership and take decisive military action before it’s too late.
— Richard Galustian is a business and security analyst who has lived in Libya since 2011.